29 August 2018

Is DHS Hyping the Politics of Fearing Fear Itself?


Attached herewith is another important report on the growing flakiness of the so-called Russia-Gate narrative.  This story is becoming increasingly laden with complex twists and turns and dead ends: one interesting new twist in this tale is the role of empire building by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — our newest and perhaps least needed security/intelligence bureaucracy.  The author, Gareth Porter, describes the emerging role of DHS’s smarmy bureaucratic ambition to forge its own security narrative around its own elastic concept of protecting our nation’s “critical infrastructure.” IMO, DHS is creating of yet another unaccountable national security money gusher, powered by a toxic mix of patronage, secrecy, and the politics of fearing fear itself.
Gareth Porter has written several important books on national security policy; he holds a PhD in history from Cornell University, and he is one of the very best investigative journalists in America.  In 2012, he won the prestigious Martha Gelhorn Prize for Journalism.  Politically, Porter is a liberal, and his articles appear in liberal journals like Alternet, Counterpunch, Consortium News, Salon, Truthout, and the Nation — but his work also appears in the American Conservative and the Libertarian Antiwar.com.  He always searches for the truth, even if it leads him away from his leanings.  But be advised, Gareth is my friend, so I freely admit I am biased, so judge for yourself whether or not this is an eye opening essay. 
Chuck Spinney
How the Department of Homeland Security Created a Deceptive Tale of Russia Hacking US Voter Sites
The narrative about Russian cyberattacks on American election infrastructure is a self-interested abuse of power by DHS based on distortion of evidence, writes Gareth Porter.
By Gareth Porter, Special to Consortium News,  Volume 24, Number 241, August 28, 2018
Reprinted with permission of author
[CS Note: this is slightly reformatted to ease reading, but not one word has been changed]
Gareth Porter
The narrative of Russian intelligence attacking state and local election boards and threatening the integrity of U.S. elections has achieved near-universal acceptance by media and political elites.  And now it has been accepted by the Trump administration’s intelligence chief, Dan Coats, as well. 
But the real story behind that narrative, recounted here for the first time, reveals that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created and nurtured an account that was grossly and deliberately deceptive. 
DHS compiled an intelligence report suggesting hackers linked to the Russian government could have targeted voter-related websites in many states and then leaked a sensational story of Russian attacks on those sites without the qualifications that would have revealed a different story. When state election officials began asking questions, they discovered that the DHS claims were false and, in at least one case, laughable.
The National Security Agency and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigating team have also claimed evidence that Russian military intelligence was behind election infrastructure hacking, but on closer examination, those claims turn out to be speculative and misleading as well. Mueller’s indictment of 12 GRU military intelligence officers does not cite any violations of U.S. election laws though it claims Russia interfered with the 2016 election.
A Sensational Story 
On Sept. 29, 2016, a few weeks after the hacking of election-related websites in Illinois and Arizona, ABC News carried a sensational headline: “Russian Hackers Targeted Nearly Half of States’ Voter Registration Systems, Successfully Infiltrated 4.” The story itself reported that “more than 20 state election systems” had been hacked, and four states had been “breached” by hackers suspected of working for the Russian government. The story cited only sources “knowledgeable” about the matter, indicating that those who were pushing the story were eager to hide the institutional origins of the information.
Behind that sensational story was a federal agency seeking to establish its leadership within the national security state apparatus on cybersecurity, despite its limited resources for such responsibility. In late summer and fall 2016, the Department of Homeland Security was maneuvering politically to designate state and local voter registration databases and voting systems as “critical infrastructure.” Such a designation would make voter-related networks and websites under the protection a “priority sub-sector” in the DHS “National Infrastructure Protection Plan, which already included 16 such sub-sectors. 
DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and other senior DHS officials consulted with many state election officials in the hope of getting their approval for such a designation. Meanwhile, the DHS was finishing an intelligence report that would both highlight the Russian threat to U.S. election infrastructure and the role DHS could play in protecting it, thus creating political impetus to the designation. But several secretaries of state—the officials in charge of the election infrastructure in their state—strongly opposed the designation that Johnson wanted.   
On Jan. 6, 2017—the same day three intelligence agencies released a joint “assessment” on Russian interference in the election—Johnson announced the designation anyway.
Media stories continued to reflect the official assumption that cyber attacks on state election websites were Russian-sponsored. Stunningly, The Wall Street Journal reported in December 2016 that DHS was itself behind hacking attempts of Georgia’s election database.
The facts surrounding the two actual breaches of state websites in Illinois and Arizona, as well as the broader context of cyberattacks on state websites, didn’t support that premise at all.
In July [2016], Illinois discovered an intrusion into its voter registration website and the theft of personal information on as many as 200,000 registered voters. (The 2018 Mueller indictments of GRU officers would unaccountably put the figure at 500,000.) Significantly, however, the hackers only had copied the information and had left it unchanged in the database. 
That was a crucial clue to the motive behind the hack. DHS Assistant Secretary for Cyber Security and Communications Andy Ozment told a Congressional committee in late September 2016 that the fact hackers hadn’t tampered with the voter data indicated that the aim of the theft was not to influence the electoral process. Instead, it was “possibly for the purpose of selling personal information.” Ozment was contradicting the line that already was being taken on the Illinois and Arizona hacks by the National Protection and Programs Directorate and other senior DHS officials. 
In an interview with me last year, Ken Menzel, the legal adviser to the Illinois secretary of state, confirmed what Ozment had testified. “Hackers have been trying constantly to get into it since 2006,” Menzel said, adding that they had been probing every other official Illinois database with such personal data for vulnerabilities as well.  “Every governmental database—driver’s licenses, health care, you name it—has people trying to get into it,” said Menzel.
In the other successful cyberattack on an electoral website, hackers had acquired the username and password for the voter database Arizona used during the summer, as Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan learned from the FBI. But the reason that it had become known, according to Reagan in an interview with Mother Jones, was that the login and password had shown up for sale on the dark web—the network of websites used by cyber criminals to sell stolen data and other illicit wares.  
Furthermore, the FBI had told her that the effort to penetrate the database was the work of a “known hacker” whom the FBI had monitored “frequently” in the past. Thus, there were reasons to believe that both Illinois and Arizona hacking incidents were linked to criminal hackers seeking information they could sell for profit.
Meanwhile, the FBI was unable to come up with any theory about what Russia might have intended to do with voter registration data such as what was taken in the Illinois hack.  When FBI Counterintelligence official Bill Priestap was asked in a June 2017 hearing how Moscow might use such data, his answer revealed that he had no clue: 
“They took the data to understand what it consisted of,” said the struggling Priestap, “so they can affect better understanding and plan accordingly in regards to possibly impacting future elections by knowing what is there and studying it.”  
The inability to think of any plausible way for the Russian government to use such data explains why DHS and the intelligence community adopted the argument, as senior DHS officials Samuel Liles and Jeanette Manfra put it, that the hacks 
“could be intended or used to undermine public confidence in electoral processes and potentially the outcome.” 
But such a strategy could not have had any effect without a decision by DHS and the U.S. intelligence community to assert publicly that the intrusions and other scanning and probing were Russian operations, despite the absence of hard evidence. So DHS and other agencies were consciously sowing public doubts about U.S. elections that they were attributing to Russia.
DHS Reveals Its Self-Serving Methodology
In June 2017, Liles and Manfra testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that an October 2016 DHS intelligence report had listed election systems in 21 states that were “potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors.”  They revealed that the sensational story leaked to the press in late September 2016 had been based on a draft of the DHS report. And more importantly, their use of the phrase “potentially targeted” showed that they were arguing only that the cyber incidents it listed were possible indications of a Russian attack on election infrastructure.  
Furthermore, Liles and Manfra said the DHS report had “catalogued suspicious activity we observed on state government networks across the country,” which had been “largely based on suspected malicious tactics and infrastructure.” They were referring to a list of eight IP addresses an August 2016 FBI “flash alert” had obtained from the Illinois and Arizona intrusions, which DHS and FBI had not been able to  attribute to the Russian government.


Manfra: No doubt it was the Russians. (C-SPAN)
The DHS officials recalled that the DHS began to “receive reports of cyber-enabled scanning and probing of election-related infrastructure in some states, some of which appeared to originate from servers operated by a Russian company.” Six of the eight IP addresses in the FBI alert were indeed traced to King Servers, owned by a young Russian living in Siberia. But as DHS cyber specialists knew well, the country of ownership of the server doesn’t prove anything about who was responsible for hacking: As cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr pointed out, the Russian hackers who coordinated the Russian attack on Georgian government websites in 2008 used a Texas-based company as the hosting provider.  
The cybersecurity firm ThreatConnect noted in 2016 that one of the other two IP addresses had hosted a Russian criminal market for five months in 2015. But that was not a serious indicator, either. Private IP addresses are reassigned frequently by server companies, so there is not a necessary connection between users of the same IP address at different times.
The DHS methodology of selecting reports of cyber incidents involving election-related websites as “potentially targeted” by Russian government-sponsored hackers was based on no objective evidence whatever. The resulting list appears to have included any one of the eight addresses as well as any attack or “scan” on a public website that could be linked in any way to elections. 
This methodology conveniently ignored the fact that criminal hackers were constantly trying to get access to every database in those same state, country and municipal systems. Not only for Illinois and Arizona officials, but state electoral officials.
In fact, 14 of the 21 states on the list experienced nothing more than the routine scanning that occurs every day, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Only six involved what was referred to as a “malicious access attempt,” meaning an effort to penetrate the site. One of them was in Ohio, where the attempt to find a weakness lasted less than a second and was considered by DHS’s internet security contractor a “non-event” at the time.
State Officials Force DHS to Tell the Truth
For a year, DHS did not inform the 21 states on its list that their election boards or other election-related sites had been attacked in a presumed Russian-sponsored operation. The excuse DHS officials cited was that it could not reveal such sensitive intelligence to state officials without security clearances. But the reluctance to reveal the details about each case was certainly related to the reasonable expectation that states would publicly challenge their claims, creating a potential serious embarrassment.  
On Sept. 22, 2017, DHS notified 21 states about the cyber incidents that had been included in the October 2016 report. The public announcement of the notifications said DHS had notified each chief election officer of “any potential targeting we were aware of in their state leading up to the 2016 election.” The phrase “potential targeting” again telegraphed the broad and vague criterion DHS had adopted, but it was ignored in media stories.
But the notifications, which took the form of phone calls lasting only a few minutes, provided a minimum of information and failed to convey the significant qualification that DHS was only suggesting targeting as a possibility. 
“It was a couple of guys from DHS reading from a script,” recalled one state election official who asked not to be identified. “They said [our state] was targeted by Russian government cyber actors.”
A number of state election officials recognized that this information conflicted with what they knew. And if they complained, they got a more accurate picture from DHS. After Wisconsin Secretary of State Michael Haas demanded further clarification, he got an email response from a DHS official  with a different account. 
“[B]ased on our external analysis,” the official wrote, “the WI [Wisconsin] IP address affected belongs to the WI Department of Workforce Development, not the Elections Commission.”
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said DHS initially had notified his office 
“that Russian cyber actors ‘scanned’ California’s Internet-facing systems in 2016, including Secretary of State websites.” 
But under further questioning, DHS admitted to Padilla that what the hackers had targeted was the California Department of Technology’s network.
Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos and Oklahoma Election Board spokesman Byron Dean also denied that any state website with voter- or election-related information had been targeted, and Pablos demanded that DHS “correct its erroneous notification.”  
Despite these embarrassing admissions, a statement issued by DHS spokesman Scott McConnell on Sept. 28, 2017 said the DHS 
“stood by” its assessment that 21 states “were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.” 
The statement retreated from the previous admission that the notifications involved “potential targeting,” but it also revealed for the first time that DHS had defined “targeting” very broadly indeed. 
It said the category included 
“some cases” involving “direct scanning of targeted systems” but also cases in which “malicious actors scanned for vulnerabilities in networks that may be connected to those systems or have similar characteristics in order to gain information about how to later penetrate their target.” 
It is true that hackers may scan one website in the hope of learning something that could be useful for penetrating another website, as cybersecurity expert Prof. Herbert S. Lin of Stanford University explained to me in an interview. But including any incident in which that motive was theoretical meant that any state website could be included on the DHS list, without any evidence it was related to a political motive.
Arizona’s further exchanges with DHS revealed just how far DHS had gone in exploiting that escape clause in order to add more states to its “targeted” list. Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan tweeted that DHS had informed her that 
“the Russian government targeted our voter registration systems in 2016.” After meeting with DHS officials in early October 2017, however, Reagan wrote in a blog post that DHS “could not confirm that any attempted Russian government hack occurred whatsoever to any election-related system in Arizona, much less the statewide voter registration database.” 
What the DHS said in that meeting, as Reagan’s spokesman Matt Roberts recounted to me, is even more shocking. 
“When we pressed DHS on what exactly was actually targeted, they said it was the Phoenix public library’s computers system,” Roberts recalled.

National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. (Wikimedia)
In April 2018, a CBS News “60 Minutes” segment reported that the October 2016 DHS intelligence report had included the Russian government hacking of a “county database in Arizona.” Responding to that CBS report, an unidentified “senior Trump administration official” who was well-briefed on the DHS report told Reuters that “media reports” on the issue had sometimes “conflated criminal hacking with Russian government activity,” and that the cyberattack on the target in Arizona “was not perpetrated by the Russian government.”  
NSA Finds a GRU Election Plot
NSA intelligence analysts claimed in a May 2017 analysis to have documented an effort by Russian military intelligence (GRU) to hack into U.S. electoral institutions. 
In an intelligence analysis obtained by The Intercept and reported in June 2017, NSA analysts wrote that the GRU had sent a spear-phishing email—one with an attachment designed to look exactly like one from a trusted institution but that contains malware design to get control of the computer—to a vendor of voting machine technology in Florida. The hackers then designed a fake web page that looked like that of the vendor. They sent it to a list of 122 email addresses NSA believed to be local government organizations that probably were “involved in the management of voter registration systems.” The objective of the new spear-phishing campaign, the NSA suggested, was to get control of their computers through malware to carry out the exfiltration of voter-related data.
But the authors of The Intercept story failed to notice crucial details in the NSA report that should have tipped them off that the attribution of the spear-phishing campaign to the GRU was based merely on the analysts’ own judgment—and that their judgment was faulty. 
The Intercept article included a color-coded chart from the original NSA report that provides crucial information missing from the text of the NSA analysis itself as well as The Intercept’s account. The chart clearly distinguishes between the elements of the NSA’s account of the alleged Russian scheme that were based on “Confirmed Information” (shown in green) and those that were based on “Analyst Judgment” (shown in yellow). The connection between the “operator” of the spear-phishing campaign the report describes and an unidentified entity confirmed to be under the authority of the GRU is shown as a yellow line, meaning that it is based on “Analyst Judgment” and labeled “probably.” 
A major criterion for any attribution of a hacking incident is whether there are strong similarities to previous hacks identified with a specific actor. But the chart concedes that “several characteristics” of the campaign depicted in the report distinguish it from “another major GRU spear-phishing program,” the identity of which has been redacted from the report. 
The NSA chart refers to evidence that the same operator also had launched spear-phishing campaigns on other web-based mail applications, including the Russian company “Mail.ru.”  Those targets suggest that the actors were more likely Russian criminal hackers rather than Russian military intelligence.
Even more damaging to its case, the NSA reports that the same operator who had sent the spear-phishing emails also had sent a test email to the “American Samoa Election Office.” Criminal hackers could have been interested in personal information from the database associated with that office. But the idea that Russian military intelligence was planning to hack the voter rolls in American Samoa, an unincorporated U.S. territory with 56,000 inhabitants who can’t even vote in U.S. presidential elections, is plainly risible.
The Mueller Indictment’s Sleight of Hand
The Mueller indictment of GRU officers released on July 13 appeared at first reading to offer new evidence of Russian government responsibility for the hacking of Illinois and other state voter-related websites. A close analysis of the relevant paragraphs, however, confirms the lack of any real intelligence supporting that claim. 
Mueller accused two GRU officers of working with unidentified “co-conspirators” on those hacks. But the only alleged evidence linking the GRU to the operators in the hacking incidents is the claim that a GRU official named Anatoly Kovalev and “co-conspirators” deleted search history related to the preparation for the hack after the FBI issued its alert on the hacking identifying the IP address associated with it in August 2016. 
A careful reading of the relevant paragraphs shows that the claim is spurious. 
  • The first sentence in Paragraph 71 says that both Kovalev and his “co-conspirators” researched domains used by U.S. state boards of elections and other entities “for website vulnerabilities.”  
  • The second says Kovalev and “co-conspirators” had searched for “state political party email addresses, including filtered queries for email addresses listed on state Republican Party websites.” 

Mueller: Don’t read the fine print. (The White House/Wikimedia)
Searching for website vulnerabilities would be evidence of intent to hack them, of course, but searching Republican Party websites for email addresses is hardly evidence of any hacking plan. And Paragraph 74 states that Kovalev “deleted his search history”—not the search histories of any “co-conspirator”—thus revealing that there were no joint searches and suggesting that the subject Kovalev had searched was Republican Party emails. So any deletion by Kovalev of his search history after the FBI alert would not be evidence of his involvement in the hacking of the Illinois election board website. 
With this rhetorical misdirection unraveled, it becomes clear that the repetition in every paragraph of the section of the phrase “Kovalev and his co-conspirators” was aimed at giving the reader the impression the accusation is based on hard intelligence about possible collusion that doesn’t exist.
The Need for Critical Scrutiny of DHS Cyberattack Claims
The DHS campaign to establish its role as the protector of U.S. electoral institutions is not the only case in which that agency has used a devious means to sow fear of Russian cyberattacks. 
In December 2016, DHS and the FBI published a long list of IP addresses as indicators of possible Russian cyberattacks. But most of the addresses on the list had no connection with Russian intelligence, as former U.S. government cyber-warfare officer Rob Lee found on close examination.
When someone at the Burlington, Vt., Electric Company spotted one of those IP addresses on one of its computers, the company reported it to DHS. But instead of quietly investigating the address to verify that it was indeed an indicator of Russian intrusion, DHS immediately informed The Washington Post. The result was a sensational story that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. power grid. In fact, the IP address in question was merely Yahoo’s email server, as Rob Lee told me, and the computer had not even been connected to the power grid. The threat to the power grid was a tall tale created by a DHS official, which the Post had to embarrassingly retract.  
Since May 2017, DHS, in partnership with the FBI, has begun an even more ambitious campaign to focus public attention on what it says are Russian “targeting” and “intrusions” into “major, high value assets that operate components of our Nation’s critical infrastructure”, including energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical manufacturing sectors.  Any evidence of such an intrusion must be taken seriously by the U.S. government and reported by news media. But in light of the DHS record on alleged threats to election infrastructure and the Burlington power grid, and its well-known ambition to assume leadership over cyber protection, the public interest demands that the news media examine DHS claims about Russian cyber threats far more critically than they have up to now.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. His latest book is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

14 July 2018

Killing the Hog (VII): Close Air Support Fly-off Farce


Ask any battle-hardened American soldier or marine what the best close air support airplane is -- especially if his unit is in close-quarters combat and in danger of being overrun -- and his most-likely response would be the Air Force's A-10 Warthog, affectionately known to grunts and pilots alike as the Hog.
Yet despite the nearly universal kudos from the grunts, the United States Air Force hates the A-10, with an enduring passion that dates from the A-10's birth in the 1960s. This is partly because the A-10 was midwifed in controversy by an amazing alliance of mid-level AF officers and Defense Department civilians, as well as a sense of urgency resulting from congressional investigations into complaints about the Air Force's support of grunts in Vietnam.  But the hatred runs much deeper: More fundamentally, it is grounded in the fact that the A-10 represents a highly visible -- and painful -- contradiction in the Air Force’s founding ideology of precision strategic bombing.  
This ideology shapes the Air Force's identity.  It was born during the 25 year War of the Air Force Secession -- a rebellion that began when the Army Air Corps formulated its theory of strategic bombing in the 1920s and 1930s.  Strategic bombing theory is based on a tautological analogy that claims any adversary is a web of "vital" nodes -- be it an industrial economy like that of Germany during WWII or a 21st Century terrorist organization like al Qaeda.  It posits that a precision destruction of any adversary's vital "nodes" will cause him to collapse and, at least in theory, victory can be achieved thru airpower alone -- hence it is the justification for institutional independence.  
Like all seductive analogies, Strategic Bombing Theory captures the imagination and encourages speculative, even wild, conclusions.  The result in this case has been the emergence of an increasingly powerful seductive mentality; it not only led to the flawed prediction that destructive attacks on the Schweinfurt's "vital" ball-bearing works would inflict a decisive wound in 1943, it also seduced President Obama into believing that precision strikes on "vital" Taliban leadership "targets" would be decisive.  That the cold evidence of history has repeatedly suggested otherwise has not diminished the analogy's seductive power.
Over time, airpower strategy has been reduced to a mechanistic formula of identifying an adversary's vital nodes, prioritizing their destruction, and executing precision attacks to destroy them.  By definition, if one destroys a vital node, one inflicts a mortal wound.  Hence the implicit logical corollary: in the unlikely event that any ground fighting becomes necessary, the attack would be reduced to simply mopping up disconnected remnants of the broken adversary.  This was a particularly seductive ideology in the interwar period of the 1920s and 1930s, because of the universal desire to avoid a repeat of the bloody pointlessness of trench warfare in WWI.  But the theory’s main attraction was that it provided a rationale for seceding from the Army and becoming an independent service, a bureaucratic victory finally achieved in 1947.  Perhaps more importantly, by focusing on a physical analogy, strategic bombing insensibly placed technology and hardware ahead of people -- i.e., the grunts on the ground. Thus, the AF ideology of precision strategic bombing also became a winning prescription for ever tighter alliances with the defense industry -- which proved to be a perennial winner in the see-saw battles for ever-increasing service budgets.  
Which brings us back to the Air Force's ideological hatred of the A-10: The A-10 represents a glaring rejection of the Air Force's core identity.  
Hog pilots work for and are closely integrated with the grunts on the ground.  Their top priority is to become part of a combined arms team fighting in a fluid situation, not part of some sterile conception of an attack on a hypothetical "vital" node.  To be effective, the mental Orientation of Hog pilots must be in harmony with the tactical and operational-level Orientations of the ground forces.  Hog pilots must share a harmonious outlook with the grunts, whether tactical or operational -- and they have no pretense of adding an independent war winning capability.  Hog pilots are simply soldiers expanding the concept of combined arms operations to  three-dimensional space.  
Even worse, from the Air Force's ideological point view, the Hog is technologically simple; it is also ugly, and worst of all, it is a low cost airplane.  But, as the grunts will tell you, it is amazingly effective, especially when they are in extremis and about to be overrun.
So, the deeply rooted AF ideology of precision strategic bombing has been the source of its blind ambition to kill the Hog since its inception in the 1960s.  Attached below is Dan Grazier's stunning exposition of the lengths to which the Air Force will go in this never-ending struggle.  
Grazier is a former Marine who has smelled the cordite.  In 2007 he commanded a tank platoon in Iraq, and in 2013 he served a staff officer with Regimental Combat Team 7 in Afghanistan. Today, Grazier is the Jack Shanahan Fellow at the Project on Government Oversight.  Below, Grazier explains in mind-numbing detail how a grotesquely-biased fly-off "test" has been concocted to fraudulently demonstrate how the high-cost, super-complex, problem-plagued F-35 will out perform the A-1 in the Close Air Support mission.  
As Grazier shows, the conditions that will be used to kill the Hog are so absurd as to be laughable, were the end not so obscene.  Read it and weep.
Chuck Spinney
****
For interested readers, a partial history of the A-10's birth and its recent murder attempts can be found at these references:


Close Air Support Fly-off Farce
 F-35 Versus A-10 Fly-off Tests Designed to Mislead
By: Dan Grazier, POGO.org, July 10, 2018
[Reposted with permission of the author]


(Photos: F-35, left, USAF / Senior Airman Christopher Callaway; A-10, right, USAF / Dennis Brambl; Illustration by POGO)

 
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is finally going up against the battle-proven A-10 close air support attack plane for the long-promised close air support fly-off. The unpublicized tests began on July 5, and will conclude on July 12, according to a copy of the testing schedule reviewed by the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight. But the tests, as designed, are unlikely to reveal anything of real value about the F-35’s ability to support ground troops in realistic combat situations—which the F-35, as the presumptive replacement for the A-10, must be able to demonstrate.
A close air support test should involve large numbers of ground troops in a highly fluid combat simulation in varied terrain, across many days. It should test the pilot’s ability to spot targets from the air in a chaotic and ever-changing situation. The test should also include a means of testing the program’s ability to fly several sorties a day, because combat doesn’t pause to wait for airplanes to become available.
But the Air Force scheduled just four days’ worth of tests at desert ranges in California and Arizona. And, according to sources closely associated with the fly-off, not a single event includes ground troops, or any kind of fluid combat situation, which means these tests are hardly representative of the missions a close air support aircraft has to perform.
These tests put Air Force leadership in a difficult position.
They want their largest and highest-priority weapons buy, the troubled $400 billion F-35 multi-mission fighter, to quickly replace the A-10 close air support attack plane they’ve been trying to get rid of for over two decades. The now-former Pentagon weapons testing director, Dr. J. Michael Gilmore, said in 2016 that a close air support fly-off would be the only way to determine how well the F-35 could perform the close air support role compared to the A-10—or whether the F-35 could perform that role at all. The testing office and the various service testing agencies had already meticulously planned comparative tests to pit the F-35 against the A-10, F-16, and the F-18, because the F-35 program is contractually required to show better mission effectiveness than each of the legacy aircraft it is to replace.
In other words, the test was designed by someone with a vested financial interest in the F-35 program, rather than by people whose primary interest is its performance in combat.
Many Air Force leaders strenuously objected to the fly-off, claiming that the F-35 would perform the mission differently so it wouldn’t be fair to compare its performance to the A-10. These tests are only happening now—albeit in an inadequate form—because Congress mandated them nearly three years ago. The Senate established strict criteria and specific scenarios for the tests. These include demonstrating the F-35’s ability to visually identify friendly forces and the enemy target in both day and night scenarios, to loiter over the target for an extended time, and to destroy targets without a joint terminal attack controller directing the strike.
The Congressionally approved plan includes a schedule for tests and funding for elaborate tactical test ranges with combat-realistic, hard-to-find targets defended by carefully simulated missile and gun defenses, and appropriate ground-control teams for the close-support portion of the test scenarios. Testing to date has revealed the F-35 is incapable of performing most of the functions required for an acceptable close-support aircraft, and it seems unlikely the criteria outlined by Congress and testing officials would have produced the results Air Force leaders wanted.
The Air Force Solution: Designed to Mislead
Air Force leaders came up with a simple solution to this dilemma. They are staging an unpublicized, quickie test on existing training ranges, creating unrealistic scenarios that presuppose an ignorant and inert enemy force, writing ground rules for the tests that make the F-35 look good—and they got the new testing director, the retired Air Force general Robert Behler, to approve all of it.
(Photo: USAF / Master Sgt. William Greer)
 According to sources closely involved with the A-10 versus F-35 fly-off, who wished to remain anonymous out of concerns about retaliation, this testing program was designed without ever consulting the Air Force’s resident experts on close air support, A-10 pilots and joint terminal attack ground controllers. The Air Force’s 422 Test and Evaluation Squadron at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base maintains an A-10 test division. But no one from the operational test unit contributed to the design of these tests. Even more egregiously, no Army or Marine representatives participated. Since the services fighting on the ground have a primary interest in effective close air support, excluding them from this process borders on negligence. This testing event should have been designed by the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team, which is charged with designing all tests for the F-35. Rather than going through the proper channels, design of these tests was outsourced to a consultant from Tactical Air Support Inc., a company with a contract to provide adversary aircraft to serve as air-combat training opponents for the U.S. Air Force, especially for the F-35 squadrons, which it also does for foreign air forces. In other words, the test was designed by someone with a vested financial interest in the F-35 program, rather than by people whose primary interest is its performance in combat.
The testing schedule shows four days of actual testing: one at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma’s open-desert bombing training range, in southern Arizona, and three at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake’s electronic combat range, an open-desert facility in California primarily used for electronic countermeasure research.
Day One at Yuma
The first day's test—July 5, at Yuma—scheduled one F-35 two-ship flight and two A-10 pairs. Each flight was to spend one hour making attack passes at highly visible, bombed-out vehicle hulks and shipping containers simulating buildings (plus one highly visible, remote-controlled moving-vehicle target), all in flat, open terrain near a large simulated airfield target. Each A-10 carried two laser-guided 500-pound bombs, two captive-carry Maverick guided missiles, a pod of marking rockets, and only 400 30 mm cannon rounds. The F-35s carried a single 500-pound laser-guided bomb and 181 25 mm rounds, the most each plane could carry. For the last 20 minutes of each one-hour target-range session, altitude was restricted to 10,000 feet, an alleged evaluation of each plane’s ability to operate beneath low cloud cover.
The first day’s attack scenarios called for “permissive” anti-aircraft defenses consisting of simulated shoulder-fired missiles and light anti-aircraft guns. A permissive environment is one in which there are few or no threats capable of shooting down an aircraft. Despite the “permissive” description, these are the anti-aircraft weapons that close air support planes will typically encounter while supporting our troops in battle against near-peer maneuvering enemy forces. However, the simulated defenses at Yuma had no precision instrumentation to track aircraft flight paths, gun aiming, or missile launch and homing. As a result, no quantitative data regarding the actual performance of the A-10 and F-35 will have been gathered. Rather than having charts of performance data, the evaluators will simply be able to report any results they want, without any way to verify the reports.
A close look at the first day’s test scenarios reveals numerous ways in which they were designed to favor the F-35 over the A-10, including the following:
  1. Both aircraft are given an equal one hour to attack targets, when in fact the A-10 has more than twice the F-35’s endurance over the battlefield, a key capability when friendly troops urgently need support in battles that last many hours, or even days.
  2. Both aircraft are assigned an equal number of attack sorties—even though the A-10 has demonstrated in combat an ability to generate sorties at a rate three times greater than the maintenance-intensive F-35 has been able to demonstrate under far less demanding peacetime conditions.
  3. Testing both planes’ critical ability to support troops under low cloud cover by imposing a 10,000-foot ceiling is irresponsibly unrealistic and clearly intended to mask the unmaneuverable and thin-skinned F-35’s inability to operate under the far lower 1,000-foot ceilings so common in Europe, Southeast Asia, Korea, Africa, and South America. The armored A-10 was specifically designed to be able to maneuver and survive the kind of ground fire expected during attacks under 1,000-foot ceilings. A-10s have demonstrated this on numerous occasions in Afghanistan, even in dangerous mountainous terrain.
  4. The weapons load assigned to the F-35—a single 500-pound guided bomb instead of the (still inadequate) two it can carry—unrealistically lightens the F-35 in an attempt to give it a maneuverability advantage during these tests. At the same time, the 30 mm cannon, which is the A-10’s most effective weapon and the one most demanded by troops in close contact with the enemy, has been arbitrarily limited to 400 rounds instead of the 1,174 it actually carries in combat. Equally artificially, the testers loaded the A-10 with two unguided 500-pound bombs, weapons it never carries in combat because they are too inaccurate and too dangerous to friendly troops. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, the A-10 always carries a full complement of guided bombs instead of unguided ones.
  5. The absence of specialized testing equipment to determine the accuracy of anti-aircraft gun-aiming against the evasive maneuvering flight path of the attacking plane makes it impossible to gain useful insights about relative hits on the F-35 versus the A-10—and invites the use of highly biased, speculative figures to favor a predetermined outcome. Similarly, for the shoulder-fired small surface-to-air missiles, there was not instrumentation of the precise missile launch or guidance control, no precise tracking of the attacking aircraft’s trajectory, and no validated shoulder-fired missile simulation to determine the relative success of the A-10 and F-35 in defeating or surviving shoulder-fired missiles.
  6. Using only uncamouflaged targets—usually painted dark military green and placed in flat, open, light-colored desert terrain and thus easily seen from 15,000 feet above—completely contradicts the stark realities of actual combat, in which the enemy always has a life-and-death motivation to do whatever it takes to remain unseen as long as possible. Anyone with access to Google Earth can quickly find dozens of these targets in satellite imagery.
China Lake Test Range. (Photo: Google Maps)
By testing only against highly visible targets, the test completely masks the much more restricted view out of the F-35 cockpit as compared to the A-10—along with masking the surprisingly poor video and infrared image resolution of the F-35 helmet’s display compared to the high definition of the A-10’s instrument panel display when it’s coupled to the plane’s sniper and lightening pods. On a broader level, testing only against easy-to-see, static, non-reactive targets artificially confirms the Air Force’s delusional notion that future close air support can be successfully conducted by planes flying at 15,000 feet and 450 knots relying on supposedly accurate, digitally transmitted target coordinates.
Interestingly, the Congressionally approved full operational fly-off test plan, as designed in detail by the previous testing director and the service testing agencies, avoids every one of these F-35–slanted, highly unrealistic, test-scenario biases.
Days Two, Three, and Four at China Lake
The day two schedule—July 9 at China Lake—calls for four F-35Bs to conduct a mission covering two Ospreys extracting a pilot downed in enemy territory for one hour, then four A-10s covering a similar extraction. A similar set of missions under night conditions is scheduled for the late evening of day three.
On the afternoon of day three, A-10 and F-35 pairs are to spend an hour and a quarter on the China Lake target range attacking static, visible targets similar to the Yuma targets—but these are even less realistic, as they are just simulated attacks, with no weapons released. The stated reason for moving to China Lake, despite the restrictions on actually firing weapons, is to test the A-10 and F-35 against the range’s “elevated” anti-aircraft defenses, which include simulated medium-range surface-to-air missiles, as well as shoulder-fired short-range missiles and light anti-aircraft guns.
On the afternoon of the final day, a pair of A-10s and a pair of F-35s will undergo tests to gauge their ability as airborne forward air controllers, directing the strikes of at least three sections of F-18Cs, which will simulate the bombing of more uncamouflaged targets, against the same medium- and short-range air defenses. In the late evening, a pair of F-35s and a pair of A-10s will conduct night close air support against the same targets and defenses.
These tests at China Lake show many of the same efforts to skew the events in the F-35’s favor as those at Yuma, but heavily amplified by the addition of the medium air defenses, for three main reasons:
1.     Without instrumented test aircraft, the aircraft radar tracking at China Lake does not yield aircraft trajectories precise enough to accurately simulate a medium-range missile’s success or failure against the evasive maneuvers and countermeasures of an attacking A-10 or F-35. As in the first day of tests, this invites speculation supporting the favored outcome.
2.     The medium-range missile defenses in this test do not incorporate the currently deployed Russian and Chinese stealth-defeating long-wavelength search radars now being used to cue their shorter-wavelength medium-missile radars. That means the F-35’s stealth will be much more effective against China Lake’s simulated medium missiles than against real-world missiles, thus severely skewing the test’s survival assessments in favor of the F-35 over the A-10.
3.     The relevance of medium-range missile defenses to close-support scenarios is at best questionable, as previously discussed. Their significant logistical requirements and lengthy setup times make them an impediment to maneuvering units heavily engaged in combat and trying to move quickly. Medium-range missiles are far more suitable for protecting rear-area interdiction targets or the static targets seen in trench warfare. Attacking either of these target systems with close-support planes would be a waste of lives and resources.
The Way Close Support Really Works
The true challenge in performing close air support and battlefield air interdiction missions starts with locating targets. In real combat, these targets will be crewed by real people with a powerful wish to survive the war. They will be unlikely to simply park their vehicles or themselves in the open desert calmly waiting to be hit by bombs. Instead, they will work hard to either camouflage their positions, dig in, or hide their vehicles beneath trees, barns, or other cover to make it much more difficult for aircraft to find, identify, and track them. Even when troops on the ground locate targets for the close air support planes, the rules of engagement almost always require pilots to get “eyes-on” before they can drop a weapon, to avoid civilian casualties and the disastrous effects on morale of friendly fire.
Nor is just locating, transmitting, and verifying a valid set of coordinates the end of the close-support problem. Targets react, move, hide, and fire back their own urgent threats, all in a matter of seconds. Pilots must be in close enough contact with the troops they’re supporting to cancel or switch targets in the middle of a firing pass.
Rather than telling us whether or not the F-35 can actually provide the kind of close support our ground forces need to survive and prevail, this grossly inadequate test has been designed to mislead.
This brings up the most significant failing in these tests: The designers essentially created a laboratory demonstration to show how aircraft can hit non-moving targets in a sterile environment. This hardly represents the conditions when soldiers and Marines are locked in close combat with an enemy just yards away. In the worst-case, most urgent close-support scenario—the one in which these aircraft need to be tested—a small group of American soldiers are about to be overrun by a numerically superior enemy force with reinforcements too far away to help. Their only hope of survival is for an aircraft to appear overhead, raining deadly fire on the enemy soldiers, forcing them to take cover or retreat. Not one event during these four days of tests comes close to addressing or simulating this.
Equally important, that lifesaving support needs to show up, rain or shine. The fighting on the ground doesn’t stop because of a little rain. On the contrary, our enemies, in wars past and present, often choose to attack in bad weather just to offset American airpower advantages. There is no reason to believe they will not do so in future wars. Because of our desert wars, we’ve forgotten that low-hanging clouds and poor visibility are the conditions at least one day out of three in most parts of the globe that aren’t deserts, where we might have to face far bigger fights than we face today. It is a travesty to pretend that a simulated cloud layer at 10,000 feet in clear desert air in any way tests what our troops need from bad-weather support.
Air Force leaders are fond of saying the F-35’s stealth characteristics will allow it to perform close air support in situations with heavy air defenses in a way the A-10 cannot. They like to paint a picture of a close-support aircraft having to drop a bomb on a target surrounded by enemy surface-to-air missiles but strangely devoid of friendly soldiers. Such a scenario is manifestly not close air support—simply because close means close to our troops. Unlike the way this quickie test is being staged, close air support, particularly in the kind of high-intensity combat against the peer enemy Air Force leaders are so fond of describing, always involves significant friendly ground forces engaged in a combined-arms campaign. These tests won’t help determine whether or not the F-35 can hit moving targets that are actively trying to evade attack while also being accurate enough to avoid hitting friendly ground forces.
The very nature of combined-arms warfare means all arms mutually support one another so that the strength of one weapon makes up for the weakness of another. For example, an Army brigade combat team urgently needing close support will be employing artillery, mortars, rockets, and electronic countermeasure to suppress enemy air defenses in order to protect the aircraft providing them support. Additionally, if ground forces are doing their job correctly, they’ll be disrupting the enemy’s air-defense forces so much that their missile crews will be concentrating on evading attack rather than firing at our airplanes. It is difficult to aim any weapon properly when being shot at by a tank’s main gun. These ground-brigade measures to suppress air defenses, in turn, greatly increase the effectiveness of the close support that the brigade combat team needs.
Conclusion
Rather than telling us whether or not the F-35 can actually provide the kind of close support our ground forces need to survive and prevail, this grossly inadequate test has been designed to mislead. Air Force leaders, in lockstep with senior civilian appointees, will undoubtedly march up to Capitol Hill with results in hand, saying that they conducted the tests with great care and the F-35 performed brilliantly, thus justifying bigger buys and getting rid of the A-10 sooner.
Our troops deserve better than a surreptitious test rigged in favor of a weapon that can’t do the job and against the one that can.
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By: Dan Grazier, Jack Shanahan Military Fellow

Dan Grazier served as a Lieutenant and Captain in the Marine Corps.  He commanded a tank platoon in Iraq (2007) and was a staff officer with Regimental Combat Team 7 in Afghanistan (2013).  In civilian life now, he is now the Jack Shanahan Military Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight.

15 May 2018

The Latest Act in Israel’s Iran Nuclear Disinformation


Benjamin Netanyahu’s stage performance about Iran seeking a nuclear weapon not only was based on old material, but evidence shows it was fabricated too, says Gareth Porter in this Consortium News exclusive report.
By Gareth Porter  Special to Consortium News, May 3, 2018 
[Reposted with permission by the author]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim in his theatrical 20-minute presentation of an Israeli physical seizure of Iran’s “atomic archive” in Tehran would certainly have been the “great intelligence achievement” he boasted if it had actually happened. But the claim does not hold up under careful scrutiny, and his assertion that Israel now possesses a vast documentary record of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program is certainly fraudulent.

Netanyahu’s tale of an Israeli intelligence raid right in Tehran that carted off 55,000 paper files and another 55,000 CDs from a “highly secret location” requires that we accept a proposition that is absurd on its face: that Iranian policymakers decided to store their most sensitive military secrets in a small tin-roofed hut with nothing to protect it from heat (thus almost certainly ensuring loss of data on CDs within a few years) and no sign of any security, based on the satellite image shown in the slide show. (As Steve Simon observed in The New York Times the door did not even appear to have a lock on it.)
The laughable explanation suggested by Israeli officials to The Daily Telegraph– that the Iranian government was afraid the files might be found by international inspectors if they remained at “major bases” — merely reveals the utter contempt that Netanyahu has for Western governments and news media. Even if Iran were pursuing nuclear weapons secretly, their files on the subject would be kept at the Ministry of Defense, not at military bases. And of course the alleged but wholly implausible move to an implausible new location came just as Netanyahu needed a dramatic new story to galvanize Trump to resist the European allies’ strong insistence on preserving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Act (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran.
In fact, there is no massive treasure trove of secret files about an Iran “Manhattan Project.” The shelves of black binders and CDs that Netanyahu revealed with such a dramatic flourish date back to 2003 (after which a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) said Iran had abandoned any nuclear weapons program) and became nothing more than stage props like the cartoon bomb that Netanyahu used at the United Nations in 2012.
Disinformation Campaign
Netanyahu’s claim about how Israel acquired this “atomic archive” is only the latest manifestation of a long-term
Netanyahu’s cartoon bomb.
disinformation campaign that the Israeli government began to work on in 2002-03. The documents to which Netanyahu referred in the presentation were introduced to the news media and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) beginning in 2005 as coming originally from a secret Iranian nuclear weapons research program. For many years U.S. news media have accepted those documents as authentic. But despite the solid media united front behind that narrative, we now know with certainty that those earlier documents were fabrications and that they were created by Israel’s Mossad.
That evidence of fraud begins with the alleged origins of the entire collection of documents. Senior intelligence officials in the George W. Bush administration had told reporters that the documents came from “a stolen Iranian laptop computer”, as The New York Times reported in November 2005. The Times quoted unnamed intelligence officials as insisting that the documents had not come from an Iranian resistance group, which would cast serious doubt on their reliability.
But it turned that the assurances from those intelligence officials were part of an official dissimulation. The first reliable account of the documents’ path to the United States came only in 2013, when former senior German foreign office official Karsten Voigt, who retired from his long-time position as coordinator of German-North American cooperation, spoke with this writer on the record.
Voigt recalled how senior officials of the German foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachtendeinst or BND, had explained to him in November 2004 that they were familiar with the documents on the alleged Iran nuclear weapons program, because a sometime source—but not an actual intelligence agent—had provided them earlier that year. Furthermore, the BND officials explained that they had viewed the source as “doubtful,” he recalled, because the source had belonged to the Mujahideen-E Khalq, the armed Iranian opposition group that had fought Iran on behalf of Iraq during the eight year war.
BND officials were concerned that the Bush administration had begun citing those documents as evidence against Iran, because of their experience with “Curveball” – the Iraqi engineer in Germany who had told stories of Iraqi mobile bioweapons labs that had turned to be false. As a result of that meeting with BND officials, Voigt had given an interview to The Wall Street Journalin which he had contradicted the assurance of the unnamed U.S. intelligence officials to the Times and warned that the Bush administration should not base its policy on the documents it was beginning to cite as evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, because they had indeed come from “an Iranian dissident group.”
Using the MEK
The Bush administration’s desire to steer press coverage of the supposedly internal Iranian documents away from the MEK is understandable: the truth about the MEK role would immediately lead to Israel, because it was well known, that Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad had used the MEK to make public information that the Israelis did not want attributed to itself – including the precise location of Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility. As Israeli journalists Yossi Melman and Meir Javadanfar observed in their 2007 book on the Iran nuclear program, based on U.S., British and Israeli officials, “Information is ‘filtered’ to the IAEA via Iranian opposition groups, especially the National Resistance Council of Iran.”
Mossad used the MEK repeatedly in the 1990s and the early 2000’s to get the IAEA to inspect any site the Israelis suspected might possibly be nuclear-related, earning their Iranian clients a very poor reputation at the IAEA. No one familiar with the record of the MEK could have believed that it was capable of creating the detailed documents that were passed to the German government. That required an organization with the expertise in nuclear weapons and experience in fabricating documents – both of which Israel’s Mossad had in abundance.
El Baradei: Didn’t buy it.
Bush administration officials had highlighted a set of 18 schematic drawings of the Shahab-3 missile’s reentry vehicle or nosecone of the missile in each of which there was a round shape representing a nuclear weapon. Those drawings were described to foreign governments and the International Atomic Energy Agency as 18 different attempts to integrate a nuclear weapon into the Shahab-3.
Netanyahu gave the public its first glimpse of one of those drawings Monday when he pointed to it triumphantly as visually striking evidence of Iranian nuclear perfidy. But that schematic drawing had a fundamental flaw that proved that it and others in the set could not have been genuine: it showed the “dunce cap” shaped reentry vehicle design of the original Shahab-3 missile that had been tested from 1998 to 2000. That was the shape that intelligence analysts outside Iran had assumed in 2002 and 2003 Iran would continue to use in its ballistic missile.
New Nose Cone
It is now well established, however, that Iran had begun redesigning the Shahab-3 missile with a conical reentry vehicle or nosecone as early as 2000 and replaced it with a completely different design that had a “triconic” or “baby bottle” shape. It made it a missile with very different flight capabilities and was ultimately called the Ghadr-1. Michael Elleman, the world’s leading expert on Iranian ballistic missiles, documented the redesign of the missile in his path-breaking 2010 study of Iran’s missile program.
Iran kept its newly-designed missile with the baby bottle reentry vehicle secret from the outside world until its first test in mid-2004. Elleman concluded that Iran was deliberately misleading the rest of the world – and especially the Israelis, who represented the most immediate threat of attack on Iran – to believe that the old model was the missile of the future while already shifting its planning to the new design, which would bring all of Israel within reach for the first time.
The authors of the drawings that Netanyahu displayed on the screen were thus in the dark about the change in the Iranian design. The earliest date of a document on the redesign of the reentry vehicle in the collection obtained by U.S. intelligence was August 28, 2002 – about two years after the actual redesign had begun. That major error indicates unmistakably that the schematic drawings showing a nuclear weapon in a Shahab-3 reentry vehicle – what Netanyahu called “integrated warhead design” were fabrications.
Netanyahu’s slide show highlighted a series of alleged revelations that he said came from the newly acquired “atomic archive” concerning the so-called “Amad Plan” and the continuation of the activities of the Iranian who was said to have led that covert nuclear weapons project. But the single pages of Farsi language documents he flashed on the screen were also clearly from the same cache of documents that we now know came from the MEK-Israeli combination. Those documents were never authenticated, and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, who was skeptical of their authenticity, had insisted that without such authentication, he could not accuse Iran of having a nuclear weapons program.
More Fraud
Shahab 3: Secretly got a new nose cone.(Atta Kennare,Getty)
There are other indications of fraud in that collection of documents as well. A second element of the supposed covert arms program given the name “Amad Plan” was a “process flow chart” of a bench-scale system for converting uranium ore for enrichment. It had the code name “Project 5.13”, according to a briefing by the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, and was part of a larger so-called “Project 5”, according to an official IAEA report. Another sub-project under that rubric was “Project 5.15”, which involved ore processing at the Gchine Mine.” Both sub-projects were said to be carried out by a consulting firm named Kimia Maadan.
But documents that Iran later provided to the IAEA proved that, in fact, “Project 5.15” did exist, but was a civilian project of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, not part of a covert nuclear weapons program, and that the decision had been made in August 1999 – two years before the beginning of the alleged “Amad Plan” was said to have begun.
The role of Kimia Maadan in both sub-projects explains why an ore processing project would be included in the supposed secret nuclear weapons program. One of the very few documents included in the cache that could actually be verified as authentic was a letter from Kimia Maadan on another subject, which suggests that the authors of the documents were building the collection around a few documents that could be authenticated.
Netanyahu also lingered over Iran’s denial that it had done any work on “MPI” or (“Multi-Point Initiation”) technology “in hemispheric geometry”. He asserted that “the files” showed Iran had done “extensive work” or “MPI” experiments. He did not elaborate on the point. But Israel did not discover the alleged evidence of such experiments in a tin-roofed shack in Tehran. The issue of whether Iran had done such experiments was a central issue in the IAEA’s inquiry after 2008. The agency described it in a September 2008 report, which purported to be about Iran’s “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.”
No Official Seals
The IAEA refused to reveal which member country had provided the document to the IAEA. But former Director-General ElBaradei revealed in his memoirs that Israel had passed a series of documents to the Agency in order to establish the case that Iran had continued its nuclear weapons experiments until “at least 2007.” ElBaradei was referring to convenient timing of the report’s appearance within a few months of the U.S. NIE of November 2007 concluding that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons-related research in 2003. And the “MPI” document fulfilled precisely that political function.
Netanyahu pointed to a series of documents on the screen as well a number of drawings, photographs and technical figures, and even a grainy old black and white film, as evidence of Iran’s nuclear weapons work. But absolutely nothing about them provides an evidentiary link to the Iranian government. As Tariq Rauf, who was head of the IAEA’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office from 2002 to 2012, noted in an e-mail, none of the pages of text on the screen show official seals or marks that would identify them as actual Iranian government documents. The purported Iranian documents given to the IAEA in 2005 similarly lacked such official markings, as an IAEA official conceded to me in 2008.
Netanyahu’s slide show revealed more than just his over-the-top style of persuasion on the subject of Iran. It provided further evidence that the claims that had successfully swayed the U.S. and Israeli allies to join in punishing Iran for having had a nuclear weapons program were based on fabricated documents that originated in the state that had the strongest motive to make that case – Israel.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian on U.S. national security policy and the recipient of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. His most recent book is Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, published in 2014.